Atlantic Sun Tournament: Preview & Prediction

March 4th, 2009
This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:



Atlantic Sun Tournament

The A-Sun Tournament features the 7 eligible teams in the conference, with regular season champions Jacksonville earning a first round bye, and 4th placed Lipscomb hosting the event.


Tournament Odds












East Tennessee St.






























Jacksonville’s first round bye is a big bonus, giving them a leg up, but Lipscomb’s home court advantage makes them one of a group of serious threats to the Dolphins’ chances.



#1 – Jacksonville Dolphins (17-12, 15-5); Efficiency Margin: +0.161

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1986 (1st Round)


Jacksonville finished atop the standings by just one game, but dominated the EM standings, and is a  clear tournament favorite. The reason for this domination is the conference’s best offense: the Dolphins make 47% from the field, and are great on the offensive glass, getting a lot of high-percentage second-chance shots. They also get to the free-throw line often, where an average percentage nets them a good number of points. Jacksonville is also pretty solid defensively, despite struggling to defend the outside shot. It leads the conference in forcing turnovers and is near the top on the defensive glass, so an opponents’ good shooting percentages don’t necessarily hurt.


Players to watch:

5-10 JR Ben Smith, 16.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 51.1 eFG% - Smith averages more minutes than anyone else in the A-Sun, and is a critical player in the Dolphins’ success. He’s a pretty good shooter, but really shines by leading the team  in assists and steals, and gets to the free throw line a lot, where he shoots 80%.


6-5 SO Ayron Hardy, 10.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 64.3 eFG% - If Ayron Hardy took more shots, but maintained his percentages, he’d probably be the most efficient player in the conference, as his 60% from the field, combined with a nice three-point touch, allow him to maximize his relatively small role in the offense. He’s also a strong offensive rebounder, and does well defensively, putting up good block and steal rates.



#2 – East Tennessee St. Buccaneers (20-10, 14-6); Efficiency Margin: +0.118

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2004 (1st Round)


A bad five-game stretch in mid-February that saw the Bucs go 1-4 cost them a conference title, but they are still the clear second favorites to claim the NCAA Tourney bid. This is mostly due to ETSU’s defense, which is the conference’s best, though the Bucs’ high pace of play masks this at first glance. They force a lot of turnovers, as you’d expect, and their defensive style means that opponents put up a lot of threes, which ETSU defends well. They are somewhat weak inside, but don’t give opponents a lot of chances there. Offensively, they don’t make a lot of turnovers, and get most of their chances inside the arc, where they shoot 51%.


Players to watch:

6-4 SR Kevin Tiggs, 21.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 57.7 eFG% - Tiggs is the conference’s leading scorer, but his point totals are indicative of more than just the Bucs pace; he’s an incredibly efficient shooter. He’s 53% from the floor, which includes a good percentage from three, and gets to the line a lot, where 78% shooting can often add a lot to his point totals. He also leads the team in steals.


6-6 JR Mike Smith, 15.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 51.6 eFG% - Smith is the clear third offensive option (behind Tiggs and Courtney Pigram), but has thrived in this role, another player who augments a good inside shooting percentage with a nice touch from behind the arc and at the line. His real strength is on the glass, the team’s leading rebounder and the only Buc to record more than two double-doubles on the season.



#3 – Belmont Bruins (18-11, 14-6); Efficiency Margin: +0.097

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)


After giving Duke a major challenge in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Bruins came very close to repeating as conference champions, with a couple of losses to Jacksonville by a combined three points the difference in the title chase. Belmont features the conference’s most three-heavy offense, and when you make 36% of attempts, taking a lot tends to work out pretty well. When Belmont does go inside, it’s with great success, leading the A-Sun in two-point percentage. Still, it makes sense for them to be an outside-oriented team, as they get a lot of shots blocked, and are terrible interior defenders. Good perimeter play keeps them in it on the defensive end as well, as they hold opponents to just 32% on threes and force a lot of turnovers.


Players to watch:

6-2 SR Alex Renfroe, 16.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 60.7 eFG% - Renfroe is probably the conference’s best all-around player, and Belmont’s Mr. Everything, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. His two-point percentage is excellent for a 6-2 player, well over 60%, and his ability to assert himself inside his further demonstrated by his solid rebounding rates. He does have problems with turnovers at times, but has one of the country’s best assist rates, somewhat making up for it.


6-2 SR Andy Wicke, 11.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.3 SPG, 54.4 eFG% - On a team with a lot of three-point shooters, Wicke is both the most prolific and the best, hitting over 38% of attempts. He also leads the conference in steals, and is a great complimentary scoring option who receives a good chunk of Renfroe’s assists.



#4 – Lipscomb Bison (16-13, 12-8); Efficiency Margin: +0.107

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None


The hottest team in the conference, Lipscomb enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak, and won’t pose an easy challenge for anyone in their way, leading the conference in both making and defending shots. Despite this, the Bison don’t lead the conference in either offense or defense, as they have some serious problems in other areas. On both ends of the court, they struggle with turnovers, committing too many and forcing too few. They get to the free throw line a lot, but leave a good number of points on the floor with one of the conference’s weaker shooting percentages. Defensively, they are somewhat vulnerable inside, despite holding opponents to a low FG% overall. This is a team that looks like it might be  little better than EM would indicate, and should be considered a serious threat to cause an upset on its home floor.


Players to watch:

6-9, SO Adnan Hodzic, 17.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 59.6 eFG% - The Bosnian big man leads the Bison in both points and rebounds, and is the key to the team’s success, averaging nearly 20-and-9 during the 8 game win streak. He’s a 60% shooter from the field who will cause opponents a lot of headaches in the paint.


6-3, SR Michael Lusk, 8.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 60.8 eFG% - Like Hodzic, Lusk has been hot of late, including coming just one assist short of a triple-double in the Bison’s last game of the year. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but when he does, he’s usually pretty effective, 46% from behind the arc. He’s also got a good assist rate, though like much of the team he struggles with turnovers.



#5 – Campbell Fighting Camels (14-15, 11-9); Efficiency Margin: +0.011

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1992 (1st Round)


Campbell is another team that enters the tournament on a roll, having won its last four, including two against teams seeded above them, but it’s hard to see them extending that winning streak at all, let alone pulling off a big surprise to get the bid. When looking at the efficiency stats, there is a clear seperation between Campbell and the teams above it, as the Camels’ offense, well under a point per possession, is much weaker than that of the contenders. Campbell’s problem is its two-point shooting, which is under 45%, a number that makes it pretty hard to avoid wasting possessions. The same problem extends to the defensive end, where the Camels get pretty badly beaten inside, though they manage to make up for it by forcing a lot of turnovers and doing a good job on the defensive glass.


Players to watch:

6-5 JR Jonathan Rodriguez, 16.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 51.4 eFG% - Rodriguez is basically the lone offensive bright spot for Campbell, though his play has tapered off a little in recent weeks. He has a good outside shot, but does his best work inside the arc, where he makes over 50% of his attempts and sits third in the conference in rebounding.


6-1 FR Lorne Merthie, 9.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 49.1 eFG% - The freshman is the Camels’ most frequent long-distance shooter, and at 41% he’s the most effective as well. His mid-30s percentage shooting from two means that he should stay behind the arc, though.



#6 – Mercer Bears (17-14, 11-9); Efficiency Margin: -0.006

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1985 (1st Round)


Mercer is likely to have a tough time in the tournament, as the Bears have the worst defense of any of the teams headed to Nashville. They are the conference’s worst perimeter defenders, forcing few turnovers and allowing opponents to shoot 38% from behind the arc. They are a little better defending inside, but have a lot of trouble on the defensive glass. Offensively, Mercer is in the middle of the pack, good offensive rebounders who hold onto the ball, but isn’t a good enough shooting team to really take advantage of its possessions.


Players to watch:

6-8 JR Daniel Emerson, 14.0 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 50.8 eFG% - Emerson is the only player in the A-Sun to average a double-double, and is the Bears’ most efficient offensive player. Beyond his conference best rebounding, Emerson is a solid inside scorer, and has the ability to step out and hit a three-pointer. He also gets to the line a lot, where he shoots 70%.


6-1 JR James Florence, 20.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.3 SPG, 47.8 eFG% - Florence is the conference’s second leading scorer, but can often waste a lot of shots, especially from three, where he shoots less than 30%. When he’s hitting his threes, he’s an excellent player, generating steals and assists in addition to a lot of good chances inside, but when the threes don’t fall, he’ll probably cause more harm than good.



#7 – Stetson Hatters (13-16, 9-11); Efficiency Margin: -0.024

Last NCAA Tournament bid:  None


The Hatters’ quest for their first NCAA bid looks like quite a long-shot; they’re the only below .500 conference team in the tournament, and enter it on a four game losing streak. They’re decent defenders, but have the tournament’s worst offense, and are one of the poorest shooting teams in the A-Sun. They hold onto the ball well, and get back a lot of their own misses, but when a team shoots under 40% from the field, it doesn’t really matter. Defensively, they’re right around the conference average, but are vulnerable to inside play, allowing opponents a high percentage from two.


Players to watch:

6-5 SR Garfield Blair, 17.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 48.7 eFG% - Blair leads the Hatters in both scoring and rebounding, and has come into the tournament on a roll, averaging more than 20 points in his last six games. His offensive game is much more perimeter oriented than you might expect from his rebounding numbers, he’s a 37% three-point shooter whose offensive problems come when he shoots inside, where his numbers are less than impressive.


6-0 JR A.J. Smith, 12.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 44.2 eFG% - Smith is one of those players who undoes a lot of the good work he does with mistakes, giving the ball up a lot and shooting under 40% on two-point shots. Beyond that, he’s an effective guard, a solid three-point shooter and leading the team in assists.


My statistical all-Atlantic Sun team:

Jacksonville JR G Ben Smith, 16.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.3 SPG, 51.1 eFG%

East Tennessee St. SR G Kevin Tiggs, 21.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 57.7 eFG%

Belmont SR G Alex Renfroe, 16.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.2 SPG, 60.7 eFG%

Mercer JR F Daniel Emerson, 14.0 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 50.8 eFG%

South Carolina Upstate SR F Bobby Davis, 14.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 54.0 eFG%